KNOXVILLE, TENN.–“Good ol’ Rocky Top"
"Rocky Top Tennessee”
The chorus of Rocky Top, originally sung by the Osborne Brothers, is belted out by University of Tennessee fans any chance they get, not only throughout each sporting event, but throughout the entire day leading up to it.
Campus in Knoxville, Tennesse, is turned into a ghost town. It seems the entire university is focused on rooting on the Volunteers.
The University of Tennessee Pride of the Southland Band plays across the pedestrian bridge and onto Phillip Furmer way, the same street the Vol Walk follows.
Numerous Tennessee and Ball State Football fans tailgate hours before the gates to Neyland Stadium open.
The “Sea of Orange '' fill seats at a Neyland Stadium, which holds 102,455 fans. Those same fans eventually waving white and orange pom poms before and during the contest.
This was the scene for Ball State Football vs. the University of Tennessee Sept. 1, each program’s first contest of the 2022 season.
“That's just what you play the game for in college football, the atmosphere is amazing,” Ball State junior linebacker Clayton Coll said. “Once you get into the game, and everything happens, you're so focused on this and that, [you] kind of lose aspect of it, but it was definitely there and it was definitely great. You know, people say the SEC (Southeastern Conference) is different and matters more down here, and I would agree.”
Though the Cardinals lost 59-10, Coll said, as a kid, he grew up watching college football, and lives for games and moments such as these. From Franklin, Indiana, Coll said the small community he grew up around reached out to him before this contest, something he said “means everything.”
“Even my wife at home, that couldn't get to come to this game, she's still supporting me through the TV, but the people that did come, my family, other's families and everything, it's awesome,” Coll said. “I text my family and friends before every game [and] just say, ‘Hey, where are you sitting?’ because that matters to me to know where they're at, because they made a big trek down here to come watch me play and watch others play, and it's awesome to have that support.”
Ball State redshirt junior quarterback John Paddock made his first-ever collegiate start in the Cardinals’ loss, after four seasons as QB2. Paddock, like Coll, said playing in front of a crowd of an estimated 92,236 people was one that he will remember for the rest of his life.
Paddock said seeing Cardinal fans that made the trip from Muncie to Knoxville put red in the “Sea of Orange” was especially encouraging.
“These past 24 hours have been just overwhelming with support,” Paddock said. “People I haven't heard from for a while that are coming down, from my family, from Indianapolis families that I've come close with that made the trip, not only for me, but for the team. It's been really cool to see all the people come out.”
Some families of Ball State players immersed themselves in the pregame festivities, joining the countless Volunteer fans. The family of both defensive lineman John Harris and safety Ben Egenolf, who are cousins, spoke pregame about making the trip to support not only their family, but Ball State.
They said they tailgate before every game at Ball State, and even did so during the Ball State vs. Penn State game in 2021 in University Park, Pennsylvania. The difference at Tennessee, as compared to Pennsylvania, was the “southern hospitality” and welcoming attitude, they said.
Ball State head coach Mike Neu said he and the Cardinals can’t thank those who traveled to support Ball State, whether as friends, family or just fans.
“[It is a] really cool atmosphere for college football, and it's nice to see our fans show up, [and] make the trip down here,” Neu said. “Whether they flew or whether they drove, [it] was great to see a very strong showing by Ball State fans.”
Going into their next game, Saturday, September 10, against Western Michigan, and the entire season to come, Paddock said he feels the environment the Cardinals endured at Neyland Stadium will better prepare them for success.
“An analogy could be like a [weighted] doughnut on a baseball bat,” Paddock said. “Those guys warm up, and it's heavier and it's harder to swing…it was a big challenge. Obviously, our senses [were] turned up to 10. So I think, looking back, we can kind of take all that and reinforce it into our routine and things that we're doing in practice, and it's only gonna help us get better.”